Two months & eighty nine years ago, the mountainous Rincon barrio of Caguas Puerto Rico welcomed its newest member – Sabad Fiueroa Cabezudo. Born one of three children to a modest family, he would go on to pursue a life that few chroniclers of history would deem worthy of retelling. But history should not be merely be a lineage of states, politics and strife. History is just as much about the lives of people. And to that end, here is his story.
Life in the newly American Puerto Rico was was yet to reflect the equality espoused by it’s new governor. Poverty was something people were born into and died out of. Work was one’s only welfare. In this societal paradigm, Sabad had formed both his values and his dreams. He grew up fast, quitting school and taking up jobs at an early age. But this did not serve his ambition well. He dreamed for opportunity, and sought it with equal fervor. As it was, such drive found few avenues for Puerto Rico’s rural poor. So he did what he knew he had to, he joined the military. In his own words, “you got clothes, you got food and you got paid.” After enlisting with Puerto Rico’s other volunteers that composed the the 65th infantry, he made way for Pusan, Korea to serve as a driver in the Korean War. Much of this time was left undiscussed, for reasons that can only be assumed. But, it is likely that this time shaped his characteristically quiet demeanor.
After being discharged, Sabad made his way for New York’s South Bronx. It was here in 1953 that he met my Abuela, Emelia Santiago. Two years later, they would have their first and only daughter, Yvette. At this same time, he began to embark on learning the trade that would become his career – cooking. It was this skill that would allow Sabad to provide for his family, and in time he would pass the passion for that skill on to his his grandson.
It wasnt until 1988 that Sabad would become a grandfather. Yet for this I am grateful because for the first time I was blessed with the chance to share in his love. As I knew my grandfather, it was only as a man who loved his family deeply, more than he ever loved himself. Every year I went to visit there was never anything but an air of joy from the moment I saw his smiling face at the airport in San Juan. And when my brother and I would eventually have to leave, tears were not in short supply for any of us.
Sabad Figueroa lived out his retirement in Bayamon Puerto Rico, in the home left to him and my grandmother by my great grandmother. It was here that my brother and I would play dominoes with him late into the warm nights, as he smoked. Smoking was a part of his life since the age of 11, and by the grace of God he managed to keep healthy for a very long time. But then a year ago he learned of the bladder cancer that ended his life this morning. And though may tears may profuse now, I rest easy knowing that he has been called home to heaven.
I miss you abuelo.
RIP, Sabad Figueroa Cabezudo. December 9th, 1924 – February 20th, 2012